Don't Rush Into Retirement

Friday - 5/20/2011, 4:00am EDT

It is important for active and retired feds, who are growing uneasy watching politicians peck at their benefits package, to understand one thing.

Many, judging from e-mails we are getting, say they are going to retire much sooner than planned to escape some of the changes being discussed. Not so fast. Because...

If you think you know what is happening in this weird political time warp, and how it is likely to end, you have not been paying attention.

Although Washington is full of sharp lawyers, lobbyists, analysts, policy wonks and journalists, many of whom are full of it, the number of people who know for sure what's happening and how it will end could easily fit into a standard-sized telephone booth. The rest of us are on the outside.

Unions and groups representing rank-and-file federal and postal workers, managers, supervisors, senior executives and retirees have some of the best legislative teams in town. That's been true for years. Many have been around a long time. They know the politicians (and key staffers) and many have worked on Capitol Hill too. They don't miss much.

But...

In spite of their experience and well-developed political radars, many of the pros are surprised at what is happening. All the rules seem to have changed. That was the subject of Wednesday's Your Turn with Mike Causey radio show featuring Dan Adcock, legislative director of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, and Federal Times congress-watchers Steve Watkins and Sean Reilly. To listen, click here.

Proposals that have been made, then ignored, year after year for decades seem to have gotten traction in 2011. They were sometimes proposed, debated and dissected, then went away. Not this time...

The two-year federal pay freeze, initiated by the White House, caught most experts flat-footed.

The proposal to require most feds to pay more for their retirement (meaning a 5 to 6 percent decrease in take-home pay) was a wild card few failed to take seriously. For a quick rundown of the hit list, click here.

In addition to the high number of political pot shots aimed at the fed family, the places they are coming from are also new. Individual members of Congress are going after feds. Bills are introduced (or planned) as stand-alone-legislation. But some of the changes have been incorporated in the budget already passed by the House.

In Congress the so-called bipartisan "Gang of 6" represented a powerful bipartisan effort to cut spending, possibly at the expense of federal workers. Its three Democratic and three Republican Senators were supposed to represent the best and brightest and come up with cutbacks both parties could live with. But earlier this week it may have lost clout when it became the "Gang of 5" when Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) pulled out. Coburn has been described as "fiesty," meaning he may return. If not, the speculation is that the "Gang of 5" might not be able to come up with a bipartisan list of cuts that Congress could approve or reject en masse in a simple up or down vote.

Downtown, at the Blair House, Vice President Joe Biden has been presiding over bipartisan meetings with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, OMB Director Jacob Lew, Gene Sperling from the White House staff as well as Senators Daniel Inouye, Jon Kyl, Max Baucus and Reps. Eric Cantor, James Clyburn and Chris Van Hollen. Biden mentioned that the group is looking at raising the retirement contribution rate for FERS employees. But not for those under the CSRS system. If that came out as part of a bipartisan package of recommendations to Congress, it could head off a mass exodus of CSRS workers. Only about one in every five current federal workers is under CSRS, but the majority of feds who are eligible for regular or early retirement are under CSRS.

To reach me: mcausey@federalnewsradio.com


Nearly Useless Factoid
by Suzanne Kubota

Southern cicadas emerge in exact prime number cycles. According to LifesLittleMysteries, entomologist Stephen Jay Gould says there's a simple reason: "They make cicadas more elusive."


MORE FROM FEDERAL NEWS RADIO

Acquisition feds recalled from retirement
The Army hired the most retired federal workers to help with acquisition in 2010.

AFGE offers details on OMB's unionizing efforts
About 400 feds at the Office of Management and Budget have filed a petition to unionize. They've asked the American Federation of Government Employees about union representation.